This year, I made five gaming-related New Year’s Resolution for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and one of them was to play more handheld games. If I could spare ten minutes to play Angry Birds on my iPhone, I rationalized, surely I can make time this year to catch few more Pokemon, explore more of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, or lose myself to a few more rounds of Planet Puzzle League.
Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of leaving my DS games in the seat pocket on airplanes, so my collection is a skosh on the small side. Fortunately for me, there’s an absolute stockpile of quality games already available for the DS, along with the 3DS’s expanding library of games, and the PS Vita looming on the horizon. Here are five games worth making time for this year.
Five portable games I will make time to play this year
5) Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart was one of the first games I bought for my Nintendo 64, and my love for the series has gone strong for the past fifteen years (and cripes, do I feel old typing that). It’s been a while since I’ve had any new experiences in dropping banana peels and power sliding to victory, which is where Mario Kart 7 comes in. Featuring what some reviewers call the strongest track collection to date, Mario Kart 7 graces the 3DS with classic (“klassic”?) kart-racing action, along with a few sprinkles of new gameplay, like the return of coins as speed-boosters, or the addition of gliders and propellers to give karts added movement. Mario Kart‘s gameplay is perfectly suited to three-to-four minute bursts, and Mario Kart 7 looks to be another fine addition to Nintendo’s esteemed racing series.
4) The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks vs. Phantom Hourglass
Not owning a Wii, my life has been cruel and Zelda-less ever since I finished The Wind Waker way back in 2003. Fortunately, Zelda has two lengthy, quality offerings for the DS, giving me an opportunity to quest for the Master Sword and stop Ganon on the go. Two touch screen-controlled Zelda games have been released so far: Phantom Hourglass from 2007, and Spirit Tracks from 2009. Either would feed my Hylian action-adventure fix, but for the purposes of this list, I’m choosing Spirit Tracks–I like the idea of using the train to navigate, even if it does cut down on the series’ signature exploration, and I’d prefer to avoid the much-maligned Temple of the Ocean King from Phantom Hourglass, a timed stage that players must complete after completing each dungeon. Fun stuff.
3) Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Turn-based JRPGs are some of my favorite games, and Nintendo handhelds generally have a nice repository of quality menu-driven action. Several recent games vyed for a spot on this list, but I’m most excited about Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Having played through the first game (and completely missed out on the second), I have an attachment for the Golden Sun universe, and for its emphasis on puzzle-solving as well as combat. Dark Dawn carries on its predecessors’ legacy, with multiple Psyenergies to utilize, as well as more elusive Djinn to track down for summoning purposes. I’m not sure if anyone else is excited at the prospect of returning to Camelot’s much-acclaimed GBA series, but I love the idea of having more advenures with Isaac, Mia, and all the rest.
2) Super Mario 3D Land
All of the hype and kind words about this game have driven me this close to purchasing a 3DS, and even now, I’m not so sure that I won’t find myself leaving Target one day, $169.99 poorer and enjoying one of Mario’s best handheld outings in years. The little I’ve played of Super Mario 3D Land feels significantly more tight and precise than I thought the 3DS circle pad could manage, and the 3D effects give the game a unique flavor that I can’t find on other consoles (lacking, as I do, a 3D-capable television set). The other footage I’ve seen looks like a fantastic collection of gameplay tropes from Super Mario Galaxy mixed with the art design from Super Mario Bros. 3, alternating between 2D and 3D space with few hiccups and even fewer complaints. Solid 3D platformers are a rare treat nowadays, and Mario is still the best in the biz at what he does.
1) Radiant Historia
Every once in a while (about three times a week, by my count), gamers who grew up on 16- and 32-bit JRPGs lament their absence from the current gaming climate. “Why don’t they make ‘em like they used to?” we cry, dismayed at the notion that games like The Last Remnant and Nier are expected to carry the mantel established by Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire, and more. Well, now’s the time for me to put up or shut up, because Atlus has given me exactly (and if everything I’ve ready is true exactly exactly) what I’ve asked for. Radiant Historia is a sprite-based 16-bit RPG with turn-based combat and an emphasis on character-interaction and deep, layered storytelling. From its unique, grid-based battle system to its tricky, time-twisting story, Radiant looks to tread an expert balance between nostalgic design and progressive ideas. In his review, Game Informer editor Joe Juba mentioned Radiant Historia in the same breath as Earthbound, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger, saying that anyone who has longed for 16-bit RPGs needs to play this game sooner than later. If I have my way, dear readers, I’ll make it sooner.